Never fear the Ghost of Relationships Past

In the box is a photo of your lover. You recognise their smile. They look happy, younger and carefree. You recognise the light in their eyes from the intimate moments they share with you. But that’s not you in their arms. You’re not the one behind their smile. But you know who is.

The one who came before.

Breaking up and beginning again is a cycle anyone who’s ever loved will know. The process is never clean. But just as a stone thrown into a river creates ripples, so do some actions muddy waters needlessly.

What, then, are the fragments kept from romances past? Are they harmless pebbles that simply show the passage of time, or massive boulders threatening destruction at the slightest disturbance?

I love history. I also believe I’m the sum of my past experiences. For those reasons, I’m the sort to keep cards and letters and photos that mean or mark something significant that happened in my life. Hence I’ve boxes of neatly ordered records – old diaries, my nan’s funeral service, wedding invitations, messages scrawled on napkins. But there are love letters in there too. There are photos of me and old boyfriends, and inked promises of undying devotion which never came to pass.

Does that mean I’m trapped in the past? Hanging on to old memories, unable to move forward?

No.

I’m at peace with everything in those boxes. There’s nothing in there I regret, and nothing in there I’m embarrassed about. Importantly, there’s nothing in there I would hide from the person to whom I would trust my heart – the person I see as my future.

Those boxes are a part of me. They show where I’ve been and they’re a key to understanding where I am going. I keep them as a record; as statements of fact.

And while anyone who knows me well enough understands why I keep these relics, there are those who don’t. Including ex-boyfriends – a fact that, I admit, does cause problems. Unlike their boxed-up memory-version, they’re alive and well with the potential to interfere in the present day. To them, the notion I’ve kept a bit of what we had is a sign I wish we were still together; to others, it’s a sign I haven’t moved on (emphatically, it is not; and I have).

However I understand why archives might upset. Why they might muddy the waters, so to speak. Because there are people who hold on because they don’t want to let go – people who cherish the past because they fear moving forward. We’ll call them Havishams, shall we?

And let’s not forget that for every Havisham who cannot forget there’s the goldfish who cannot remember. Or will not. In fact, I’m not sure what’s worse – someone stuck looking backwards or someone who refuses to admit where they’ve been.

So I keep my cards and letters with one eye to yesterday and the other trained on tomorrow. But for all the boxes, I never lose sight of the moment.

How about you?

The story Never fear the Ghost of Relationships Past first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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